The busiest travel days of the year are behind us now (or ahead of us, I suppose, since it’s now 2012), but countless travelers with disabilities or medical conditions will nonetheless continue to encounter difficulty when passing through security. I’ve written about this topic before, but it keeps coming up, so here are 4 FAQs on flying with a disability or medical condition, medical device screening, and the value of air medical transport.
1. If I have a disability or medical condition, can I bring liquid medication on the plane?
Yes. All passengers are allowed to bring small amounts of liquid on the plane, and some types of liquids are allowed in larger amounts for passengers with disability and medical conditions, including:
- All prescription and over-the-counter medications (liquids, gels, and aerosols) including petroleum jelly, eye drops, and saline solution for medical purposes;
- Liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition;
- Life-support and life-sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, blood products, and transplant organs;
- Items used to augment the body for medical or cosmetic reasons such as mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bras or shells containing gels, saline solution, or other liquids; and,
- Frozen items are allowed as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. If frozen items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 requirements.
However, per Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations, “if the liquid medications are in volumes larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml) each, they may not be placed in the quart-size bag and must be declared to the Transportation Security Officer. A declaration can be made verbally, in writing, or by a person’s companion, caregiver, interpreter, or family member. Declared liquid medications and other liquids for disabilities and medical conditions must be kept separate from all other property submitted for x-ray screening.”
2. If I’m in a wheelchair, do I still have to go through security?
Yes. Passengers in wheelchairs should have a wheelchair attendant to help them through security. They’ll go to the front of the security line, or through the flight crew line. The TSA is still required to do a security check on the passenger, but instead of going through the metal detector like most of us typically do, the passenger goes directly to the side area where they will be scanned by a TSA official with a handheld scanning device.
3. Can I bring a medical device, like an oxygen concentrator, on the plane?
Generally, yes. Here the rules are a bit different for getting through security than actually getting on the plane. The TSA recommends but does not require passengers to have documentation of their disability or medical condition in order to proceed through security with a medical device or the liquids listed above (though passengers should be prepared to answer questions about their disability, condition, and devices/medications for TSA personnel).
But to get on the airplane with a medical device like an oxygen concentrator or wheelchair, special documentation called a medical fit-to-fly information form (MEDIF) is required. Unfortunately, we’ve seen and heard about many passengers who were hassled or even denied boarding because they didn’t have the proper documentation.
That’s one reason why having an air medical transport escort can significantly reduce the stress of traveling with a medical condition or disability: the medical escort knows the ins and outs of all the rules and regulations, which can vary by airline and even by airport. At MedFlight911 Air Ambulance, we know the documentation that’s required, the people we need to talk to, and the steps we need to take to ensure that our patients and all of their medical supplies make it safely and comfortably onto the airplane.
4. If I have an implanted medical device with metal in it, will I be able to pass through security?
This question is actually personal; my mother has cancer, and has a cancer port with metal in its construction implanted in her chest. When she flew in November to visit relatives back East, the TSA screener was unfamiliar that such a device existed and so he put my mother through an unnecessary amount of additional screening until a supervisor who was familiar with it finally stepped in.
Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to improve the familiarity of TSA screeners with medical devices, but passengers can learn what to say to the TSA screener. And here is another case where having an air medical transport escort who knows very clearly all of the TSA regulations regarding medical devices can help a lot.